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2014-09-28 12:55:00



Mexico is "like a sweet shop in the oil business", according to one executive, and international energy companies are eyeing the goodies it offers as they wait for technical and fiscal details to work out how much they can splurge.

Mexico is accelerating the bidding process in the reform of its energy sector. It expects to announce fiscal terms in November and to award the first contracts – for shallow water fields – in late April-early May. Deep-water fields will be awarded in September-October 2015.

As the clock ticks down to the first bidding round for oil and gasfields after nearly 80 years of state control, executives at an international oil conference in the Caribbean resort of Cancún said they were tentatively starting to flesh out their investment plans.

Tim O'Hanlon, Irish explorer Tullow Oil's vice-president for Africa, summed up the mounting excitement when asked if Tullow was interested in Mexico. "Big time," he grinned.

"Mexico is like a sweet shop in the oil business – there is onshore, offshore, unconventionals, high-risk, frontier [resources] ...." he added. Tullow is primarily a frontier exploration business and would "love to repeat" its experience in Africa, where it styles itself the leading independent explorer, he said.

Mexico expects to offer 169 fields in the first round – 109 exploration fields and 60 production blocks. Some 70 of the 109 exploration blocks are so-called unconventional resources which include shale. "The 39 left are a mix that are not well explored, or not explored at all. And so that's what we're grappling with," said Jerome Kelly, Tullow's West Atlantic exploration manager.

The scale of Mexico's deep water potential is vast: as Sami Iskander, chief operating officer at BG Group notes, only 57 wells have been drilled on the Mexican side of the Gulf of Mexico, while there have been 1,600 wells on the US side that have pumped 26bn barrels. He urges Mexican authorities to hurry up making seismic data and the fiscal terms of contracts available, and advises companies: "Mexico requires speed."

BG Group is the largest international producer in Brazil, but Mr Iskander declined to say what proportion of his company's typical $1.4bn to $1.8bn annual global exploration budget he would allocate to Mexico.

"If there is a good opportunity, it will get funded," he told the Financial Times, adding that BG was interested in deepwater prospects, as well as in time, gas market deregulation. He is talking to Pemex about sealing joint-venture deals.

BG is also interested in bidding with other partners when tenders open, but unlike Noble, a US company which discovered and, in four years, brought into production the Tamar gasfield in Israel which supplies some 40 per cent of the Jewish state's electricity, it is not wedded to being the operator of fields on which it bids.

Noble says it is seeking areas with exploration promise. "Deepwater is our initial interest area," said Chuck Davidson, Noble's CEO. "Deepwater exploration is our core competency . . . the Perdido Fold is an area which we are interested in."

Noble, which has been talking to Pemex about joint-ventures for two years, is developing five discoveries in the Gulf of Mexico – none directly adjacent to the Perdido, which itself is near the Great White field being developed on the US side of the Gulf of Mexico by Chevron, Shell and BP.

Mexico is not only home to vast, untapped promise. It also has major fields, like the shallow-water giant Cantarell, which are in serious decline. Squeezing more from fields like those is US company Occidental's focus.

"The bulk of our business is enhanced oil recovery," Steve Chazen, Occidental CEO, told the conference, adding that "Mexico is one of the principal opportunities for this kind of activity left in the world".

Three-quarters of Oxy's production comes from fields discovered before 1970, he said. "In Mexico, we think we will have the same kind of success. Mexico ought to be able to basically double its historical recovery."

Though Mr Iskander likens the stampede into Mexico to a "gold rush", some are more wary. Petronas, the Malaysian state-owned oil and gas group, expects to open an office in Mexico soon, but Noor Azahar Ibrahim, head of new ventures, says it is "too early to draw any conclusions. We are just looking around like everyone else".

Still, he cautioned against runaway expectations for Mexico's energy reform immediately: "It's a curse for Mexico to be so close to the US operations in the Gulf of Mexico," he said. "People expect performance to be the same."






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